parts of throam vol 3 (im sorry anna green please i can only access fics off my dsi and livejournal is heckin wack on there please dont destroy me im just a desperate gir)0 reviews
throam u know the rest i chose the chapters that broke me up the most not in order sorry fam
I have a sleepless night lying on my back on the hotel bed with a local radio station on. I understand nothing of the host’s speech, but I think it’s one of those late night advice shows, a lot of ‘Liebe’ being thrown around, and I understand that much: ich liebe ihn nicht.
That’s not my problem – mine is of the other variety. And so I lie awake, feeling myself sober up as I gradually fill up the ashtray. I haven’t drawn the curtains, and the sun sneaks up on me, first weakly, then brighter and brighter, and soon I haven’t slept all night.
I haven’t gotten undressed, so I only need to roll out of bed when there’s a knock on my door. I left the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign hanging on the doorknob, just to give the world the right message. It’s only half past seven and bus call isn’t until ten, so my mind comes up with varied options as to who it is: a sobered and nauseous Sisky, maybe, or an angry Dallon wanting to check that I’m in my room and not in someone else’s. Or maybe Brendon with another suggestive invitation to go to his room, and my hands feel slightly sweaty at the thought of him, and there is no excuse for that.
It is Brendon, and I’m taken aback by it. He stands in the corridor, looking tired and not that good at all – sleepless night, contestant number two. At least he’s changed, the tight jeans now gone and replaced by flared maroon pants. He looks at me like he instantly realises that I haven’t been to bed at any point, his eyes quickly taking me in.
“Hey,” I say, my voice scratchy from having smoked too much.
“Hey.” His voice is hesitant. He looks worried. Concerned. The flirtatious air from last night is long gone. “Sorry if I woke you up but –”
“I wasn’t asleep. I, well. Couldn’t really sleep.”
“Me neither, really,” he says sheepishly. “I just wondered if you wanted to get some breakfast or- or something, I don’t know.” He says it too quickly. Twists his hands awkwardly. Shifts his weight from one leg to the other, and he doesn’t meet my gaze, but he’s never been the kind to be shy.
“Breakfast?” I repeat, having a hard time believing that this brings him to my door before decent hours.
“Yeah, I know,” he says, grimacing like his excuses are too thin even for him. “Okay, what I... what I really wanted to say is that I’m sorry about last night. I think I had too much to drink and I- I didn’t mean to come onto you, I just –”
“Ryan,” he says very matter-of-factly, looking embarrassed. “Trust me. I came onto you.” And he says it like he knows what he wanted and what he was thinking, and heat flares up in my guts before I quickly suppress it.
“It’s fine,” I say, really not needing us to get into it. The mere thought of us talking about the ‘what if’ fills me with terror – that is not a good idea. “I had a few too many myself, I get it.”
“I shouldn’t have. It’s just, um.” He rubs his head, smiling awkwardly. “You, me and hotel rooms. Like memory, you know?”
“Yeah, exactly.” I’ve never been as quick to agree. “We have old habits and... Yeah, I get it. It’s fine,” I repeat for the umpteenth time. “We’re still learning to be friends, we’re both, uh, single and available, and you were upset about Dallon and –”
“It wasn’t about him,” he says, an almost frown appearing on his face.
“No, I – I just. I get it, man, and I’m past it, and.” Then I just nod plenty like that’s that.
I’m lying through my teeth, but we’re addressing the tension between us for the first time, and I know it’s been between us since – since Paris, Glasgow, Oslo, since I showed up at his door. But actually verbally acknowledging it makes my heart beat fast. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to admit that I’m still attracted to him, that on some level we probably want to fuck each other – we know that it’d be good sex.
“Look, Ry,” Brendon says, fidgeting. “I just –”
The door opposite mine opens just then, and I’m grateful for the interruption. Jon rushes out, throwing a jacket on as he goes, but he stops when he sees us, exhales. “Oh thank god, there you are!” He’s speaking to Brendon, who is slowly closing his mouth, swallowing words that I’m glad I now don’t have to hear. Jon is wide awake, and he’s not usually much of a morning person. He looks distressed. “Mike’s been calling your room, he –”
“Jon, you alright?” I ask because something’s wrong. I know that right then, I see it in his eyes.
“Mike’s at the police station.”
Brendon pales. “He’s been arrested?”
“No!” Jon rushes out. I exhale – okay, Mike isn’t in jail. Thank fuck. He doesn’t seem the type, anyway. “Bob and Quentin have been arrested,” Jon then says. A look of horror takes over Brendon’s features.
“For what?” I ask disbelievingly. When I went to bed, those two were still at that party, surrounded by a group of admirers. The morning paints a different picture. Hell, I talked back to a cop once, they took me in for that, but I can’t imagine what on earth Bob and Quentin could have done since I last saw them.
Jon looks dead serious but hesitates like he’s not sure how to say it. “Statutory rape and possession of drugs.”
Jon can barely even say it.
I can barely believe it.
“That is bullshit!” Brendon yells angrily when we return to the thankfully quiet lobby of the police station. Mike tries to hush him, saying that a scene will only make it worse, but Brendon doesn’t care.
They took us to a private room to avoid commotion and publicity, and after having waited for over an hour for a competent English speaker to fill us in, none of us have much patience left. We left the hotel in a hurry, and I came along because Jon and Brendon were panicking and I happened to be there to hear the news, so I came. Didn’t want to leave Brendon alone with this, wanted to know what the hell was going on. Jon’s been on the phone with Dallon, telling the guys to just stay put until we know what we’re doing.
Officers now look our way as Brendon vents, speaking in angry, loud whispers. “Bob and Quentin did not rape that girl – Quentin is gay, for fuck’s sake! He would not touch her!”
“It’s her word against theirs,” Jon says flatly like he’s accepted defeat. What more can we do?
“But we know that she’s lying!” Brendon insists.
“Of course we know that,” Mike says, tries to keep his frontman calm. In a single night, Mike’s gone from looking like a twenty-something man of the world to resembling a forty-something burnout. “That still doesn’t change the fact that she’s fifteen. Bob admits that he slept with her, but he didn’t rape her and he thought she was of legal age. We have a good case here, she was at an over eighteen party, her story keeps changing. But for... for now, the boys are being charged with rape, and the drugs on them aren’t helping. We can’t change what’s happened, Brendon.”
Brendon looks pained like he really wishes that he could.
Bob should have known better: he went back to her place. You never, ever do that. Quentin went too, but that makes sense because you shouldn’t let a band member wander off on his own. Mike’s given us their version: Quentin stayed downstairs, got kind of high, suddenly an angry middle-aged German man is yelling at him, then the guy is rushing upstairs, then there’s screaming and tears and the girl is pointing fingers, and then the police are there and our guys are being cuffed. That’s how it happened, that’s the truth: the girl’s dad caught her fucking a grown man and she can’t admit to that, so rape it is.
The masses of reporters outside were impressive when we got here, so I can’t imagine what it’s like now. They were setting up video cameras and everything – the girl’s dad is a German politician, apparently quite powerful from what we understand. That’s why this is hot news.
We are unbelievably fucked.
“At least they’ve agreed to set them out on bail,” Mike says. It’s taken all goddamn morning of lawyers coming in, us waiting around, figuring out our next move to get the boys out. At least there’s that.
“That girl just needs to confess,” Brendon sighs, exhausted.
“But that still won’t make the drugs disappear,” I say, adding insult to injury, but we all need to stick to the truth now. Say it like it is. No lies.
It’d be suicidal to go outside and face the press wanting a piece of us, of Bob and Quentin. Luckily the police agree – I think Mike’s in over his head with this and accepts the somewhat arrogant and reluctant help from the local police. Mike doesn’t know about law or ages of consent in random European countries.
Eventually an officer comes for us, asking us to follow him. We go downstairs to the parking hall where two cars are waiting for us, shiny black with tinted windows. They’re not police cars, thankfully, because leaving in one would make me feel like we’re all criminals. Mike and Jon get in the first one, and Brendon and I disappear into the second one.
In the silent privacy of the car, I can almost feel the anguished energy coming off of Brendon in waves. The driver’s seat is still empty, the rest of our party not having arrived yet. Brendon keeps sighing, his knees bouncing. He can’t sit still for a second.
I say, “Take it easy.”
He stops fidgeting. At least there’s that. “Easy?” he asks disbelievingly. “This band is fucking cursed! Ian overdoses, I nearly collapse on stage, Dallon is angry with me, and Bob gets arrested for statutory rape! Easy?! Fuck, what happens next? Jon gets hit by a car? Tell me who’s ever had as much shit luck as we have!”
“At least he died quick,” he snaps and then sinks against the seat. He covers his eyes with his palm, letting out a deep breath. “I can’t believe this is happening. We try so hard, I try so hard and –”
“Hey, I know. It’ll be alright, I promise you.”
It seems that I’ve been telling him that a lot lately.
“Will it?” he asks, hand now dropping to his lap. “I knew Quentin’s got a habit of snorting snow, but Bob was there when Ian – And he still. Fucking idiot,” he swears, and he kicks the passenger seat in front of him. It catches me by surprise, but I let him kick out his anger if that helps him. “We’re over. This time we’re over, so we better admit defeat, pack up and go home. Fuck. You got any extra space up in Machias? I’ll come hide out there with you.”
“Now you’re just being overdramatic.”
He laughs bitterly. “The funny thing is that I’m not.”
The door opens on my left then, and Bob gets in the car quickly like he can’t stand being seen. He’s got the hood of his coat over his head, and he says nothing as he settles down, the door slamming shut. His shoulders are hunched, and he barely looks at us. A driver gets in and instantly starts up the car.
Brendon is staring at Bob. “Hey, man.”
Bob nods. Doesn’t lower his hood. His hands are in his lap, calloused and toughened drummer hands that are now idle and twitchy. They appear to be shaking just slightly.
The car takes off and drives up a ramp and out of the parking hall. When we exit the building, we’re expected – policemen are trying to keep back the reporters who are yelling out, taking flashing pictures. Bob flinches, Brendon flinches – Bob hangs his head and hides his face because even though the tinted glass protects us, we can see the press, can feel their attack. Brendon turns to me to hide, and I place a hand in his hair, instinctively pull him closer, and he breathes against my shoulder, hiding as the driver inches his way through the mob. People bang on the sides and scream in a language we can’t understand, and I gently massage Brendon’s scalp, hoping to calm him down.
Then the car breaks through the crowd and we start going faster. Brendon pulls back, and only exhaustion and defeat remain in his eyes. Bob slowly lowers his hood, and I’m taken aback by how unwell he looks: nothing physically, except for the tiredness and the reddened eyes, but the dead expression that he wears. Like there’s just nothing beneath his shell.
“You okay?” I ask, knowing it to be a stupid question. He shakes his head. Of course he’s not okay – he was arrested and accused of something he didn’t do.
“I can’t leave the country,” he now says. “Neither can Quentin.” On my right, Brendon swears and looks out of the window. “I’m sorry,” he adds.
“It’s not your fault,” I tell him because Bob looks like he’s on the verge of tears. I don’t want to see a grown man breaking down like that.
“What were you thinking?” Brendon, however, asks.
Bob looks at us both, blue eyes devastated. “She said she was eighteen. And she was so - so beautiful, and – I feel sick. I feel sick thinking that she’s only – only fifteen. I did not do what she claims, I am not a- I am not a rapist. I would never. My god. Fifteen.” For a second I think that Bob is going to be physically ill over it, but then he manages to breathe through it. I don’t blame him because the thought makes me nauseous. A child.
None of Bob’s good humour is there. None of his cocky yet charming demeanour. He looks like he’s disgusted by his actions, disgusted by the accusations, disgusted by humanity.
“It’ll be okay,” Brendon says quietly, voice dead. “We’ll cancel the tour.”
I ask, “How many shows are left?”
“Four,” Brendon sighs. Four. At least they’ve managed a memorable ending. “Four shows,” he repeats, and it’s obvious that he’s heartbroken over it.
I almost say, ‘But Quentin can take over’ – he’s the drum tech, he can easily do it. But then Quentin has been arrested too. Brendon’s already figured that out: their drummer and drum tech cannot leave Germany, certainly not to be wherever we’re meant to be tomorrow. Mike can’t play the drums, Sisky can’t play the drums – Brendon’s right. We’re cancelling the tour.
“I want you to know,” Bob now says roughly, looking at Brendon, “that those drugs weren’t mine. They took blood tests, that’ll show it. Ian nearly killed himself messing with heroin, and I know that- I didn’t always get along with Ian, but seeing him fucking himself up got to me. I didn’t take any drugs last night, Bren, you gotta believe me.”
Brendon is staring out of the window, unwilling to look at his drummer. “Okay.”
“Fuck,” Bob says, voice quivering. “I need you to believe in me. I need you to –”
“I do,” Brendon now says, the words rushed. He hangs his head in guilt but still won’t look at Bob. “Of course I do, but you fucked up, man. And now we’ll have to cancel the tour and go home with our tail between our legs. And that’s just fucking great.”
“Don’t be a dick,” I say because he’s being too harsh on Bob. I remember the girl in question too – she stood out because she was stunning. And I thought she looked like she was twenty. It was an easy mistake to make. The lies have just escalated, her politician dad is trying to make her into a rape victim, which she never was – she was just a groupie who got caught and regretted it. She’ll get caught in her lies eventually but that still won’t save the tour.
Brendon looks at me guiltily. He’s just upset, I understand that.
“I’m sorry, man,” Brendon now sighs.
“It’s okay,” Bob says meekly. “I’m sorry too.”
The rest of the drive passes in silence. I try to figure out how I could possibly fix this – get the girl to confess, get Bob’s name cleared, something that will save His Side the embarrassment of ‘His Side drummer charged with rape – tour cancelled’ headlines. I mean, those headlines are being printed anyway, but a ‘His Side drummer falsely charged with rape – band proceeds tour without’ would be a much kinder headline. I don’t want Brendon to suffer, especially now that I know how much this band means to him: a chance to save the world. Some bits of it, anyway.
Getting the band’s name tarnished like this is not something Brendon deserves. Having to go home, having failed in completing the tour, is even worse.
The car slows down and comes to a stop. The hotel we’re at is not the same one where we were this morning – going back there with the press waiting for us? No. Not a good idea.
Before we can get out, Bob’s door gets opened and Mike peers in. “Stay here, I’ll go see that it’s safe,” he says. Bob looks even more dispirited. Brendon looks heartbroken.
I can’t stand that.
I will not accept that.
There’s got to be a way. There is a way.
“So listen,” I say, attracting Brendon’s attention. “I kind of know a drummer.”
The house is a ninety minute drive from Innsbruck, along snowy, narrow roads through the Austrian Alps, during which Sisky declares that he’s not a religious man but he’ll pray for us all, anyway. Jürgen, however, is a great driver, managing to keep the bus going, the engine screeching but not giving up. And then finally we arrive, our persecution over; the bus stops outside a picturesque three story chalet that we can’t really bring ourselves to be that enthusiastic about. It only marks our escape from the public eye, hiding from reporters. It marks failure.
But also retaliation. Us not giving up yet.
“So how do you know about this place again?” I ask Mike as we leave the bus, our feet sinking into untouched snow, the cold wind brutally hitting us.
Mike shrugs. “A friend of mine owes me a favour. It’s his house.”
The enormous chalet is on a hill, around which mountains rise, white peaks visible. There’s a ski resort somewhere close by, but we’re not here for pleasure. The sun is setting behind the Western mountain ridge, making the tops look ominously black. I have to admit that maybe Mike’s not as bad a manager as I’ve always thought. He’s handled this well, all taken into consideration: this morning we woke up to Bob and Quentin having been arrested. The two have since been released and have the best lawyers available – the label and Vicky had to get involved, understandably. Vicky’s exclaimed that she is going to sue everyone from the German government to the owner of the bar who let an underage girl in if the charges don’t get sorted out. Our show in Vienna tomorrow has been cancelled nonetheless. The shows after that, however, will go ahead as planned, Mike’s making sure of that. And after a brief stop in Innsbruck on the way, we’ve finally arrived to a countryside hideaway. Out of Germany, into the mountains.
The location would be stunning weren’t our hearts so heavy.
Mike still deserves credit for keeping the band from collapsing. All in all, the guys are coping. Mike now rushes to the chalet’s door to let the guys in, shivering in the cold, exhausted after all that they’ve endured. I stay still, taking in the view.
“I’ve had band practice in worse places,” Spencer now says from beside me, suitcase still in grip. He’s got that well-worn look of a traveller, and he seems at ease, not out of place – you’d think that he woke up this morning expecting an emergency phone call, like his suitcase was ready and packed. That’s how he appeared when we picked him up at Innsbruck airport, too. “God, look at that view!”
“Aren’t you glad I saved you?” I ask, getting out a cigarette. I offer him one, but he declines with a shake of his head.
“Please, I’m saving you,” he says as I light up.
I blow out smoke, pocketing my lighter, and I watch the way the Alpine breeze ruffles his hair, watch the smile on his lips. Feel myself smile in return. “Aren’t you glad to be saving me?”
“You know what?” he asks, a boyish excitement in his eyes that he tries to hide because – well, the circumstances are unpleasant. “I kind of am.”
“Come the hell inside!” Mike now calls out from the front door. He’s motioning at us frantically. “The last thing we need is for our two fucking fill in members to freeze to death! And you’re not here for the view, you’re here for boot camp! Thirty hours and counting!”
Spencer rolls his eyes but kicks into motion, and I break into a grin and follow my best friend into the house.
The practice space is in the basement, or well, on the first floor – it depends on which level you’re entering the house. The room has enormous glass windows that face the valley below, but for most of the night we see nothing but pitch black. Brendon’s teaching Spencer the drumming parts to His Side songs Spencer’s heard only when he came to see us play. Brendon looks exhausted, his mind is clearly elsewhere, but he is seeing this through. Brendon keeps stopping Spencer, correcting him, then going back to the pink grand piano, decorated with fake diamonds.
Turns out that Mike’s friend who owes him a favour is Elton John. How the hell Mike knows him and how exactly does Elton owe him a favour, I’m mystified by. The house is a modest holiday home for the superstar, only has seven bedrooms I’ve been told, and for tonight His Side are Elton’s lodgers, desperately trying to get the live act back together.
“Okay, so from the chorus,” Brendon says again, for the hundredth time. “One, two, three, four –”
As we kick into the chorus, Mike jerks awake, having fallen asleep on the couch. It’s four in the morning, and we haven’t slept. Everyone looks exhausted except for Brendon and Spencer, both of whom seem to have something to prove.
After a few more goes, during which Jon is so dead beat that he drops a pick and Dallon forgets what we’re even playing, Mike tells us that we need to go sleep. Five hours should do it, then we’re back in this room, getting it right before getting back on the bus for an overnight drive to Rome. We had to leave Bob and Quentin in Munich, and the goodbye was awkward and angry. We’re not talking about it, however. There’s nothing we can do for them except offer our support and hope for the best.
“See you in the morning,” Dallon says as he leaves with Jon, his eyes lingering on the rest of us, but he’s been civil today. Bob’s entire life could be ruined because of one fuck up, so whatever anger and resentment Dallon feels for me, he’s kept it to himself. He’s not petty and he’s not a brat – he and Brendon would have been good together. I know that.
Brendon watches Dallon leave, but he seems too preoccupied with the band to mourn the premature dissolution of his and Dallon’s relationship. Still, I catch the uneasy vibes between them, and I try my best to stay out of it.
The crisis has also made Brendon coming onto me seem petty. So what? We were drunk. We’re both probably horny. It was either flattering or insulting that he wanted me, I don’t know. He finds me attractive, thinks that I qualify for a meaningless fuck. As long as I stay away until this tour is over, as long as I resist temptation, we’ll be fine.
“You too,” Mike now says to Brendon through a thick yawn, hand over his mouth. “You’re still a patient, Bren.”
“I feel fine,” he says, and he might be right. He looks as healthy as he did before.
“Roscoe,” Mike orders, pointing at him. “Out.”
Brendon mumbles under his breath but finally agrees to leave. Sisky rushes after him. Mike doesn’t tell me to go to bed, probably knows he has no authority over me, and so I stay and work with Spencer and Mike for a while longer.
Eventually Mike calls it a night for all. He slouches out of the room while Spencer tells me that he’ll go to bed in a minute, he only wants to run through one last song. “Fine,” I tell him, even when I know he’s lying.
The practice room is soundproofed, but I feel the vibrations of the drums as I ascend the stairs. The lights aren’t on in the spacious living room, but roaring flames rise from the fireplace, casting live shadows on furniture. I stop when I see Brendon on a plush couch, having thought he would be in bed by now. Everyone else most certainly is.
“Hey,” he greets me quietly. Then he says, “It’s snowing.”
He motions at the massive windows, and as the flames flicker I see specks of white floating past the glass. It’s breathtakingly beautiful.
“Why are you still up?”
Mike seemed insistent on his singer getting some rest after a horrible day. Brendon just motions at the coffee table in front of him though there’s nothing there – anymore, anyway. “Wasn’t tired so Sisky interviewed me some.”
“Yeah?” I ask, unsure of what to make of that. Brendon left the practice room forty... fifty minutes ago? Is that a long time? How much can you say in that much time? Can you get in depth? “You alright?” I then ask, referring to the loss of Bob and Quentin as well as the interview. Brendon shakes his head – of course he’s not alright.
“Just brought up some old memories,” he says, waving it off, but it seems like he can’t wave it off. Otherwise he wouldn’t be sitting here in the middle of the night, lost in his thoughts. He cards through his hair like he’s trying to process whatever is on his mind.
“Do you want me to leave?”
To my surprise, he shakes his head. “Sit down.”
So I do. I sit on the other end of the couch, finding that it’s soft and warm and inviting. Brendon is absently rubbing his right wrist.
“Too much playing,” he says. My fingers are stiff from playing for hours on end, but my wrists and, more importantly, both of my elbows feel just fine. Never as good as they once were, but healed nonetheless.
“We’ll be able to put on an alright show,” I say conversationally. “Spencer’s got half the songs down already.”
“Yeah,” he agrees. “He’s really fucking good.”
My mind is on the interview that took place without my knowledge. I know that with Jon, Sisky did as he promised and focused on discussing the bands. And Brendon witnessed the downfall of The Followers and the rise of The Whiskeys, and as a key witness undoubtedly Brendon has plenty to say on the bands, but I can’t imagine Sisky not trying to pursue the more intimate angle between Brendon and me.
“Did Sisky behave himself?” I ask, and Brendon nods absently. Good. Otherwise I’d give Sisky a good talking to.
“It’s just a bit odd, saying some things out loud,” he muses, and I know exactly what he means. He half-smiles. “Remember that time you got arrested in Philadelphia, and you threatened to quit the band?”
I laugh embarrassedly, nod. I do remember it – vaguely. I was drunk as hell and keen to start a fight. I didn’t quit the band, though. I stayed. I remember Brendon and me on the bus the day after my arrest, our mouths bruising and angry. With every kiss I felt better, not that I admitted it then. But he kept fixing me.
“Those weren’t good times,” I reflect.
“I think they kind of were,” he says pensively, surprising me. “When compared to what was in store for you and me, anyway.”
He’s probably right about that. Those were preliminary rounds, us practising ways to really fuck each other up.
“Sisky didn’t ask about New York yet, but I’ve been thinking about it,” he says quietly. “Have you talked to him about it?”
“Some,” I admit.
He shakes his head and chuckles, but I don’t get what’s funny. “We’ll talk to someone else about it but not each other.”
“But we should be able to talk about it,” he says emphatically. “So I’ve been thinking about it, us and what happened. And if Sisky asks about our affair, I know what I’ll tell him. I’ll say, ‘You want to hear something really fucked up?’ And he’ll say sure.” He looks at me intently like he’s repeating the question: do I want to hear something really fucked up?
He’s specifically said that he doesn’t want to talk about the past. He shot me down the few times I tried to talk about it when I first got to Chicago. Now in the privacy of this house so early in the morning that we can’t even call it that, his tongue seems loosened. There’s a weird sense of loss to his voice even though he’s hardly even said anything yet, and I find myself holding my breath, dreading and yearning what comes next.
“I hated that Shane slept with you,” he states surprisingly calmly.
I immediately hang my head in shame of myself. I will never be able to live that down. “I know there was no excuse for –”
“No, that’s not what I mean,” he says. “I was furious with you both, but Shane doing that really shocked me. I never thought that he’d cheat on me. I know how hypocritical that is, but... I thought I knew him and I thought that he would never... So he broke my heart when he cheated, in some fucked up way he did. But you broke it too, and in the aftermath of it all, when I was angry and hurt, I realised that I was jealous. Thinking of you two, all these mental images haunting me, fuck, it made me so jealous. And that was the worst part. Not that Shane had cheated, but that it’d been with you. I didn’t want him to have you because you were... I guess I just thought that you were supposed to be mine, and I didn’t want others to have you.”
Something I can’t swallow has lodged itself into my throat. “Bren...”
“Listen,” he says, voice wavering slightly as he presses on. “Just let me- let me say this. When it came to Shane, that’s what hurt the most: being jealous of him. And when it came to you, what hurt the most was that – that you had done something so bad that you left me no choice. That I had to let you go. You were touring somewhere halfway across the world, and I left for LA, trying to write music that my label would like. And Ian was with me, sure, but I don’t think I’ve ever been that lonely in my life. And everyone asked about you all the time, people thought we were good friends, there were these – god, these constant reminders of you everywhere. But you had left me no choice, and it fucking killed me. Not that you would have even had me at that point, I know that,” he says quickly. “You kicked me the hell out of your life, and maybe I deserved it. But what you did was unforgivable. I couldn’t –” He runs out of breath and shakes his head. Takes a few moments to pull himself back together. “I couldn’t forgive you enough to...”
“I know,” I say roughly. That was the plan: destroy everything beyond repair.
He laughs sadly. “God, I just wanted to call you and make up so many times. And I knew that I shouldn’t have wanted that but I still did. And days turn to weeks and months and – and then you showed up in Chicago, and it was like – like I’d been waiting for you to show up, and it was hard to be mad at myself for that. I was mostly mad at you for making me wait. For dropping in on us in Montreal but not having the fucking courtesy to show your face, like you’re allowed to check up on me, but I’m not allowed to do the same. How was that fair?” he asks, and it never occurred to me that he might view it like that.
I don’t even know what to say, but then the truth breaks from my lips. “I stayed away because I assumed you hated me.”
“I couldn’t know that. You know you’d have the right.” I worry on my bottom lip, and I realise that I’ve never really said the most obvious thing that needs to be said: “I’m sorry for what I did to you.”
“I know that.”
But I don’t think he does know. I don’t think even I fully realise how truly sorry I am. And now he’s listening, so I say, “I just wanted to hurt you back. Shane had figured you out, that you’d cheated, and he was a mess and he was drunk, and I – It was easy and petty and wrong. But if I couldn’t have you, then I couldn’t let you go with him either. He wasn’t worthy of you,” I say quietly, hoping that somewhere deep down he knows I’m right. “You were settling. You were. And it was arrogant of me to think so, to assume that I knew what was best for you but... what I felt for you. I thought that’d be enough justification, enough reason. Turned out it wasn’t, and I didn’t handle that well. Understatement, I couldn’t handle it at all. And it seemed like such a perfect revenge, doing what I did. But I was repulsed by it. And I’m sorry that I put you through all that.”
“Maybe I deserved it,” he sighs. “After all I’d done to Shane.” He stares into space, and it occurs to me what a great number we did not only on each other, but on everyone. He wasn’t innocent, pearly white. God, us? We could never have been innocent. “After all I’d done to you too,” he then adds as an afterthought but sounds like he still means it. “I’m sorry for that, too.”
“I survived,” I shrug. That’s almost a lie, but I don’t want him to feel bad about that. He couldn’t help it. You can’t force yourself to care more about someone than you do, so. And I gave him no reason to choose me. None at all. “I know it doesn’t change anything, but it was the worst sex I’ve ever had. No offense to Shane.”
Brendon breaks into a broken smile and somehow manages to laugh. “None taken.” And I somehow manage to laugh, too, to shake my head at it. Brendon exhales and curls up on the couch. “Bygones now, though, I guess.”
I’ve pictured alternative scenarios hundreds of times. Different ways to save us, to have him. But they’re daydreams, and daydreams are a waste of time.
“Better that it didn’t work out, really. It’d be a lifetime of hiding,” I then tell him. Had we worked out, him and me, we would always have to hide it. We could never let anyone know. I was too famous then, am too famous now, and these days Brendon Roscoe is gaining more and more fame. Double the attention.
I expect him to agree that it’s better this way, that at least now he doesn’t need to hide something as huge as having a man in his life. Someone who’s famous, too. After all he’s been through, his pride, his need not to be ashamed of who he is... He would never be okay with completely hiding it. But instead he shrugs slightly. “If it’s true, it’s worth anything.”
He’s probably right about that.
I never really stopped to wonder how he felt during the time we spent apart. Never let myself dream that he’d want to call me up, that he still wanted me around. Assumed that he didn’t. I know that a part of him wished that he hadn’t wanted that.
“I’m here now,” I say at length.
“I know.” The fire is slowly dying down, the flames low, coals glowing deep red. “I’m glad you are. Saved the band again.”
I figure he’s referring to Spencer, so I just shrug. I’m useful to have around.
“I just,” he starts, drawing in a breath. “Ever since you showed up, I constantly feel this. This odd sensation, like something is getting filled up. Especially recently, and it just makes me realise how much I’ve missed you. Like I didn’t even know it myself while you were gone. And I know I said this already, but,” he pauses. “I’ve really fucking missed you, Ry.” He’s looking into his lap, dark shadows dancing on his face. The pain in his words is unexpected, makes me feel guilty. It is different this time, him saying those words. They mean something different.
“I’ve missed you too.”
It’s not easy to say, but it’s true.
He smiles in relief, and that’s ridiculous. Like he somehow didn’t know how much I’ve missed him – just being around him, talking to him, seeing him, having him in my life. I reach out and pull a hand from his lap, and his fingers find mine, linking together, tracing the skin. His hand is dry and warm. He smiles a fraction wider, leaning into the couch. With no intention to run.
He looks at me, smiling carefully, and I return the smile, meeting his gaze.
He says, “I’m sharing my room with Dick, and he talks in his sleep,” and I say, “I think I’ll wait for Spencer to be done downstairs.”
And so we stay where we are, our fingers slowly tracing patterns, familiarising ourselves with what is already well known.
When I come to, it’s light, a hell of a lot lighter, and I’m lying on the couch – well half of me is, the other half is sticking out over the edge. Thankfully I haven’t lost my balance and fallen onto the floor, probably due to the weight on me which... is Brendon. He’s snugly fit himself between me and the back of the couch, draping over me in his sleep. I have an arm around his shoulders and he has an arm thrown around my waist, his head on my chest. He is warm and comfortable and smells good, and I want to press into the heat, pull him closer, fall back asleep but... we’re being watched.
Sisky is standing by the fireplace, staring at us with a knowing grin, and it’s kind of hard to fall back asleep with someone staring at you. Our eyes meet, and his grin becomes obnoxious, eyeing Brendon still asleep and all over me.
“Breakfast,” he whispers and winks. He then heads to where I can hear the sound of pots and pans being banged.
I let out a breath I didn’t even know I was holding. I count to ten. Remember last night, what Brendon said, what I said. The last thing I remember is us sitting here, a comfortable even if poignant silence on us. I don’t remember falling asleep. I don’t remember us finding each other in the dark. Anyone could have walked past us, seen us, and here we are, canoodling like –
Brendon stirs slightly, murmurs nonsense, and I fucking love it when he does that.
He jerks awake, hums, and lifts his head from where it was resting on my chest. “Uhm,” he says, hands slipping on me as he pushes himself to rest on an elbow. He blinks at me tiredly like he’s trying to figure out how we ended up here. “Hello.”
“I fell asleep.”
“Guess so,” I say, pulling my arm back from his shoulders.
His cheeks are slightly reddened from the warmth of sleep, reminding me of his fever dreams, of his hot skin when he fucks. His eyes linger on my face, and my stomach drops, not knowing what he’s thinking.
Further bangs sound from the kitchen. He turns his head. “Food?” This clearly interests him.
“Great.” He sits up, and I do the same, letting my feet touch the floor. My neck is stiff and my body aches from the confined space we shared, but somehow I feel well rested, my body relaxed. “Real food would be nice. I think I can swallow again.” He rubs his Adam’s apple but it’s hard to believe that that’s really the only thing running through his head just now. I wasn’t expecting to wake up like that. I doubt he was expecting it either.
He still gets up without further comments on us having shared the couch, but maybe we just don’t need to comment on it. I can’t decide if that’s because it’s taboo or it’s holy.
Brendon rolls his shoulders, trying to kick sleep out of his limbs. “You’re comfy,” he says over his shoulder.
“I am?” My eyes quickly move up from where they were moving lower and lower down his back. “I’m glad.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty surprised myself,” he says teasingly, sending a smirk my way, and I feel relieved by it. With just one smile, I somehow know we’re still okay. “I’ll join you in a minute.” He pads towards the bathroom. I watch him go and feel slight longing from the distance.
So we slept on the couch. After we sat here and... He said all these things. That he’s missed me, and I’ve missed him too. And that’s alright.
Others wouldn’t understand.
Thankfully, only Sisky and Spencer are in the kitchen, and I quickly figure out that the others haven’t gotten up yet. Waking up to the entire band and crew watching our sleeping embrace would have been more unnerving.
It’s ten in the morning, and I’m surprised that Spencer is up. He nonetheless seems rejuvenated somehow and doesn’t seem to be missing London one bit – apart from the girl, he said. And here I thought that he’d feel bad for walking out on The Police, but apparently I gave him an excuse to quit and to leave them to the recording of their own fucking album. Spencer’s exact words.
“Morning,” I say, and Spencer looks up from the omelette mixture he’s whisking.
“Morning, beautiful,” he retorts slyly. “See you managed to tear yourself away, then.”
So Spencer saw us too.
Sisky chuckles from where he’s setting the table, putting plates and forks in place. He keeps eyeing me, that grin permanently fixed on his face. Well, I’m not a creep who watches other people sleep, for fuck’s sake.
“Sisky, can you go see if Mike’s up yet?” Spencer requests, and Sisky is quick to obey Spencer, looking at him adoringly. It feels like sending the kid away so that the parents can talk. I play with my sleeves and hope that Spencer lets it be.
But it’s Spencer James Smith, and I’ve known the fucker since I was this tall. When has he ever let things be?
Spencer pours his egg mix onto a hot pan, the yellowy liquid sizzling. “This’ll be good,” he says confidently, and then he glances at me, and I try to clear my throat and appear casual and calm. “You back together with Brendon, then?”
There is no accusation in his tone, but I shake my head quickly anyway. “No.”
“No?” He sounds disbelieving. “Because you act like you are.”
“Well that’s your misinformed perception of it,” I scoff.
“We just talked,” I say defensively even though a warm and fluffy sensation has settled in my guts, tension and excitement and nerves, but it’s far too early in the morning to acknowledge it.
“Hmm,” Spencer says like he now gets me. “Clearly wore you out. All that talking.”
I’m about to tell him to go fuck himself, but Brendon walks into the kitchen just then, eyes lighting up at the sight of the omelette. “So you drum and you cook.”
“I’m the full package,” Spencer smirks. Brendon smiles, and that’s a hell of a lot after all we went through yesterday.
“Morning,” Brendon then says, looking my way, and he says it like he means it – if you can somehow really mean saying ‘morning’ to someone, and I suppress the instinct to return the greeting and place a kiss in his tousled hair. And I get the strange feeling that Brendon wouldn’t bat an eye if I did just that.
“Morning,” I manage to return. Realise that maybe I’m crossing the line again, but it’s fucking hard to stay behind it when Brendon lets me cross it so easily. Like maybe he wants me to, and that sets off a distant alarm bell in my head, but it’s getting harder and harder to remember why it’s there.
Sisky now returns, looking miserable. “Mike told me to go fuck myself.”
“He’s never been much of a morning person,” Brendon says matter-of-factly. “I’ll show you how it’s done.”
Sisky smiles in relief and hurries back to wherever Mike’s sleeping – I don’t even know, I never made it past the couch. Brendon glances at me and smirks. “You should comb your hair, by the way.”
I blindly flatten my hair at the top, feeling it stick out randomly. Brendon goes after Sisky, and Spencer focuses on his omelette, not lifting his eyes from the pan as he says, “And he acts like it, too.”
Chapter 9: In Pioneer Park
His taste. His laugh. His smile. And not the one for the cameras, for the fans, for the stage. But the smile he only seems to give to me.
But the fact is that he’d give it to someone else if he tried hard enough. If we made an effort to sever all ties instead of letting ourselves be drawn back into it, find each other time after time.
Maybe we’ve just become lazy, being romantics. We think that past passion is the most intense, the one of a lifetime. The one.
But what about that guy over there? Or maybe him or him or him? Couldn’t they be that guy? Couldn’t they be better?
No. Not them.
It’s all him. His taste, his laugh, his smile. Year after year.
So we don’t even try to love someone else more. And maybe we could, maybe but – His taste, his laugh, his smile.
And no one can beat that. They rarely ever have a chance.
And they most certainly don’t have it this morning. Not after last night, when he and I... God, I can barely think it. It weighs me down as I wait, observing the mindlessly happy tourists fussing around the small square, gazing at the renaissance architecture that Rome is full of.
None of them slept with a lost love last night.
And if they did, none of them were able to admit that it was lost. That’s the difference between them and me.
Spencer shows up at noon like I told him to. He emerges out of a taxi, his eyes first landing on the grandiose Trevi Fountain and the tourists around it, taking pictures, throwing in coins and making wishes. He then sees me, smoking outside a shop, waiting for him. He doesn’t even know what I’ve done, but somehow I feel guilty at the sight of him. He will know. He will judge me.
Spencer makes a beeline for me, having to stop to let little kids run past him. I avert my gaze, drop the cigarette and step on it as he reaches me. “Well, you’re a man of mystery, aren’t you?”
“I figured this place would be easy to find.” I keep my eyes on a couple posing with the fountain rising in the background, marble statues with dead gazes staring out onto the square. The tourists smile for the picture. The statues don’t. “Breakfast, then?”
Spencer nods, and I randomly choose one of the narrow cobblestone lanes just wide enough for a car and a pedestrian.
Before Spencer arrived, I overheard an American tourist complaining to her husband that Italians don’t know how to make good roads. Idiot, I thought – this place is ancient. The streets are ancient and a mess like a spider web. The older something gets, the more chaotic it becomes. The harder it is to make sense of it, to control it.
You’d think everyone knows that.
But then I think of last night again, and it seems that I barely know it myself.
It doesn’t take long to find a tiny café, and we find a corner table at the back. I don’t need a view.
Spencer orders two coffees, unbuttoning his jacket. “We should be at the venue in half an hour, you know,” he tells me, and yeah, I know.
I can’t really look him in the eye. I just chew on my bottom lip, my fingers restlessly tapping the table. I see the future laid out ahead of us: the matinee show, wrap up around sunset, a long damn drive to Barcelona, one show and we’re done. We’ll be on the plane home – Spencer’s flying with us, he’s decided. Since his work with The Police is done and he misses his daughter. And I’ve got a connecting flight to Boston from Chicago, will make my way to Machias from there. Don’t know where else to go. When Vicky booked the flight last week, I just said that my stuff is in Machias, and no one questioned that. I omitted my not knowing if I’ll ever come back, although I got the feeling that others assumed I’d only be picking stuff up.
Still, this tour won’t be ongoing for much longer. Only a little, little longer, and then it’ll be over.
The waiter returns, sets our coffees down. “Grazie,” Spencer says, eyes flickering on the man, waiting for him to leave. Once he does, Spencer asks, “What’s wrong?”
I keep tapping my fingers against the table. It flashes through my mind again: his taste, his laugh, his smile. Him whispering he wants my come in him. And so I fucked him harder. Harder. Harder.
Now it’s morning. Now I’m not kidding myself and I’m not lost in want.
“I slept with Brendon last night.”
And then it’s out there, and I’ve confessed, and we can all be so, so disappointed in me again.
See, there he goes, that Ryan Ross: one fuck up after another.
“Well I know that,” Spencer says, rolling his eyes. I stop drumming the table. Look at him in surprise, wonder if it’s that obvious – because I did shower once I got to my room, I showered Brendon off of me. Maybe it’s my mouth that still looks like it’s been kissed too much. Spencer shakes his head at my obliviousness. “Brendon could hardly look away from you last night. I picked up on some vibes – eventually. So I figured you two were going to, uh...” He trails off. Is that why he so suddenly decided to leave? “I mean, there’s that giving you away, but you guys also kept Leo awake since he was in the next room, so yeah. He was bitching about it when I bumped into him earlier. Oh, he won’t tell,” he then says when I feel alarmed. “It’s just that he and I both knew, so.”
“It was that obvious?” I ask, wondering how oblivious I was, how deep in denial I was about what was clearly going on between Brendon and me. Sleeping on couches, him coming onto me in Munich – I just explained it all away in a desperate attempt to keep up the friendship that was never truly there. But it justified us. We need to be justified.
“No, it wasn’t that obvious,” Spencer says dismissively. “You leaving me a message at the front desk to come meet you when you’ve done a vanishing act, that’s obvious.” He takes a sip of his coffee. Mine remains untouched. I have no appetite, feel like my capability to want anything is gone. “Was it...” he begins, clearly not knowing what to say. He scratches the side of his face, the beard there making a slight rustling sound. “Was it bad?”
Not every friend would start asking about their best friend’s sex life with other men, so I’ll give Spencer credit for that. I realise, then, that he’s always been holding my hand. Not to let me go too far when The Followers got huge, pulling me towards the stage when I didn’t want to perform, our fingers brushing together as we shared cigarettes during sleepless nights when I was too miserable to sleep, and that misery never had a shape or a reason or a name, but he was fine with that. He never complained. And he had enough of it eventually, but that was my fault. I never stopped to say ‘thank you’, did I?
But now Spencer’s back. The topics have changed, but he’s still there. Listening. He will be the guy giving a speech at my funeral, and I think he genuinely might even have some nice things to say.
I’m not nearly as unlucky as I’ve always pretended to be.
“No. No, it was...” I begin, living through it again. His skin, his sounds, all of it – fire stirs up in my guts, in my chest. “They haven’t invented words for that yet.” Spencer doesn’t say anything, doesn’t judge, doesn’t pry. But it’s not about the sex having been good. That’s unimportant. “It was a mistake. I shouldn’t have, but he was there and he wanted me, and I wanted him, but it’s – We’ve done all of that before. And it does us no good. We always fucked it up.” My hands curl into fists.
“Maybe it’s different this time,” Spencer suggests, and I appreciate the naivety.
“Is it? We’re still lying to everyone left and right, including each other, and we’re still selfish and I’m still a mess and in no – How am I in any condition to try and be with him? If that’s even what he wants, maybe he was just horny, I mean –”
“It does things to one’s mind,” Spencer muses, “not letting oneself have what one wants.”
I huff, mostly because of the overuse of the pompous ‘one’ when he just means me. But he’s right, too, that I do want Brendon. But what does Brendon want? What would stop us from fucking it up again?
“Even if he wanted the same thing,” I say slowly, but even saying it seems like I’m pushing it. “Fuck, even if Brendon did... then I still couldn’t. Because I can’t lose him again, Spencer. Fuck, imagine if – if we got together, if we finally did and it’d be good and we’d sort ourselves out, imagine me having him, being his, him being mine, and then – then picture. For a second. Me losing him after that.” Even as I say it, it feels as if my story ends at a sudden black wall. And then there’s nothing. “I wouldn’t survive it, not this time. Not anymore.”
Spencer looks serious, and I appreciate that he gets the gravity of this. “Then don’t lose him.”
I laugh. “What a beautiful notion.” I shake my head. “I’ll lose him. It’s my one talent, the one thing I excel at. I’ll fuck it up just like I always have, and this time it’d be worse than ever. I’d hurt him in a way that I can’t even describe.”
“Not to be a dick,” Spencer says hesitantly, “but I think you’re already hurting him.”
He looks at me pointedly, and I know he’s right. I wonder how I even managed to force myself to leave that bed. It’s a haze, all of it. And I picture Brendon waking up – he already has. So he woke up, and I wasn’t there. Just my absence.
And Brendon made it very clear that he wanted me there, he wanted me to stay.
I imagine what he felt when he realised I was gone. Spencer’s right: I most likely am hurting Brendon already.
I sigh, burying my face in my hands. “Fuck, I shouldn’t have slept with him. Fuck. We were alright, we had an understanding, you know? Friends. It was working out, wasn’t it? Or was it all just- just a pathetic front for us to stay close to each other because we were just that desperate?”
It’s a rhetorical question, and Spencer doesn’t try to answer it. I try to calm down. Try to be rational, but what use is rationality in all of this?
“If he wanted us to be together,” I say at length, “and if I went for it, I’d eventually lose him. And if I don’t go for it, I’ll lose him right now. I love my options here. I love how – he’s the one thing. The only thing, and I never get it right.”
Spencer shakes his head. “Maybe you’re taking it too seri –”
But he stops then.
I’ve quit bands because of Brendon. I’ve said goodbyes and broken hearts and moved countries and crashed buses. Do either one of us really want to know what else I can do?
Spencer focuses on his coffee, and I take it as a no.
“We were good,” I say quietly. “I thought we were finally good, and then I had to wreck it. So I either hurt him now or hurt him later. Just gotta choose which one will hurt him less. Just gotta choose which one will be easier for me to survive.”
Spencer doesn’t look at me when he says, “I’m sorry.”
He no longer tries to convince me that this time it’s different.
That’s why I asked him to come.
We get to the venue late, but this morning Spencer warned Mike that we might not be here on time, anyway. The venue is a basement club, and as we head down the stairs, we bump into Dick, who instantly says, “Ryan, Brendon’s looking for you.”
I stop, stupefied, and find it hard to breathe. Feel my skin heat up. I don’t want to see Brendon. I don’t want to face him, I don’t want to have that confrontation. I don’t want to see his face when I walk away.
“Uh, yeah. Thanks.”
Dick hurries on his way, and Spencer doesn’t say anything.
The club has a low ceiling and black walls, making it appear more claustrophobic than it actually is. We get to the mixing table, and I see the stage on the other side of the room, already set with four stools for Jon, Spencer, Brendon and Dallon. Brendon will be playing guitar so I don’t need to get on stage, and that’s good. I doubt I even could. Spencer only has some tambourine duties to perform.
Mike and Jon are talking to the sound engineer but our arrival catches their attention. “There you are,” Mike says but doesn’t seem happy about it. He sighs. “Today’s a shit day, then. Heard the news?”
I falter. News?
But Spencer shakes his head, and Mike says, “Ian’s quit the band.”
Oh. Not what I expected.
Jon looks mournful, and Mike adds, “Not like it was wholly unexpected. He sent a fax, and. It was very heartfelt, you can read it if you want. I know he’s sorry, but. Something about how he can’t be a part of the music scene anymore, not with his past of drug addiction. He plans to get better so he’s chosen to quit.”
“Sorry to hear it,” Spencer says, and I nod to make it clear that he speaks for us both.
Jon now shrugs. “The times, they are a-changin’, right?” But Jon’s upset and it’s obvious. Ian was in His Side from day one. They’ve never existed without him. “Brendon’s taking it the worst.”
A pang of guilt rings through me then. This is a situation when Brendon would need me as a friend, would need me to be there to talk to, help him through it. Yesterday I could have been that person. Now I’ve made everything even worse for him.
I should have stayed in Machias. I see that now.
Jon eyes me and says, “Brendon’s looking for you, by the way.”
“Yeah?” I ask nervously. “He alright?”
“He knew it was coming like we all did, but he’s still upset. He’s being interviewed now, though.”
Thank fuck for that.
“Really sorry about Ian, man.” I give Jon’s shoulder a squeeze. Jon’s never been anything but decent to me, and I haven’t always returned it. But at least His Side is taking a break after this tour is done, they’ll have time to find someone to take Ian’s place. Maybe they can even convince Ian to come back.
We find Dallon, Sisky and Leo in the dressing room, having a late lunch and getting ready for the show. Leo looks at me with a raised eyebrow that is a clear ‘well I certainly see you in a new light this morning’, and I look away, feel uncomfortable knowing that he heard us. Were we that loud? Did he just hear the bed, or Brendon too, or maybe even me? But Leo doesn’t say anything of it, just continues restringing one of Jon’s guitars. I grab one of mine, sit in a corner and play absently to appear being busy.
I’ve really made a mess of everything, but I try to formulate what to say to Brendon. Or maybe just ignore him – I left him alone, maybe that was message enough?
“Ryan, you are here!” Jürgen says when he enters the room. “Brendon search for you, ja?” He looks at me keenly to make sure we’re communicating. I feel my stomach drop.
“Okay. Thanks. Got it.”
Brendon’s clearly not happy with the silent message I left him.
I wonder how many people Brendon’s asked to look for me.
I feel Dallon’s gaze on me, but I try to give nothing away – it’s not like he knows about last night. Still, the guilt is almost unbearable.
The club is separated from the dressing room by a single wall, so we hear people pouring in, Italian media mostly. It’s a boring acoustic set of six songs. The guys don’t take it seriously, chatting idly, but the now confirmed loss of Ian dampens the mood. Brendon still isn’t here, but interviews cannot stretch to infinity, and so I take it on myself to go to the club’s side, linger at the sound table annoying the engineer and then chitchatting with a few fans. I’m thankful I’m not needed on stage, that I don’t have to be with the band right now. And it’s only when the band is minutes away from going on that I go to the dressing room to wish good luck to a band that has just lost a member, only days after their drummer was detained for something he didn’t do. I might be an asshole, but I’m not uncaring.
I don’t mean to look at him when I enter, but it’s hard not to instantly see where he is: Brendon stands up like my arrival sends some kind of an alarm through his system.
The guys keep chatting. They haven’t noticed.
Brendon remains on the other side of the room, eyes fixed on me, and his expression is – it’s a question, that’s what it is. Fuck, he’s not even trying to cover it up. He’s giving everything away with just his eyes: urgency and confusion. Incomprehension. He’s asking me where I disappeared to, what happened, why I’ve been avoiding him. And it’s so honest that I can’t hold his gaze at all.
Spencer was right: I’ve already hurt him.
Mike says, “Okay, people, gather ‘round!” so we do, even I do, and we put our hands in the middle, we promise to kick ass the way we always do, except that I don’t even speak and neither does Brendon. He’s trying to establish eye contact, and I’m busy avoiding it.
When we pull our hands back, Brendon asks, “Can we talk?”
He’s talking to me. Still staring at me. It’s making the others frown.
“Uh, now?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says, nodding. His eyes briefly flicker on the others. “In private?”
Mike says, “We’ve got a set to play, Brendon.”
Brendon glares at his manager. “They can wait –”
“They can’t,” Mike says. “Italian press. Very restless.”
But Mike is looking at me with a ‘well now you’ve done it’ expression, and I quickly pretend to take interest in the – the wall, yeah, what a fascinating fucking wall.
Mike begins to usher the band out of the room. “After?” Brendon asks quickly, an intense gaze in his eyes. I nod.
It’ll give me some time to figure out how to let him down gently.
“Okay,” he says, putting so much into a single word.
He’s almost at the door when I call out, “Hey, Bren?”
He stops instantly, looks at me with hope on his features. He’s holding his breath – he literally is.
“Heard about Ian. Sorry.”
His expression falls. He looks more confused than ever.
“Yeah.” Yeah. Okay. “Good luck out there,” I manage, and the way he reacts is like I’ve told him to fuck off. But Mike’s busy getting him on stage, and I exhale, feel all of it collapsing around me, on me.
The others follow until only Sisky and I are left. The kid is chewing on his bottom lip. He doesn’t say anything. He could, I’m sure he’s picking up on it easily, but he lets it go and for that I’m grateful. But he looks a bit small, pulling in on himself. Looks sad.
I say, “Let’s go watch the show.”
The acoustic set is a sham. They play six songs, only the fans care. Most of the crowd keeps talking over the songs, and the occasion is only an excuse for the press to mingle amongst themselves. I attract plenty of attention, someone asks me for Bob Dylan’s phone number, but the last time I saw him he helped himself to one of my hats because he’s Bob Dylan and he can do that, so I’ve taken it upon myself not to have his number anymore.
Brendon doesn’t sound good on stage. He’s distracted and his heart isn’t in it, and he keeps looking our way. Sisky picks up on it instantly, and I say, “Ian quit.”
“Yeah, he did.” Sisky lights a cigarette, and he usually does it only when something’s wrong, when he’s nervous or feeling uncomfortable. He watches His Side play, and after he blows out smoke, he adds, “That’s not about Ian, though.”
But Sisky lets it go, lets me off the hook even when it’s obvious that I’ve done something to Brendon or with Brendon or both.
I wish Brendon did the same – pretend it didn’t happen. I left him alone, I’m avoiding him now. Can’t he just realise that it was a mistake?
The band wraps up, the audience claps. The guys get off the stage, waving, but I see Brendon pushing into the crowd. Heading for us.
I don’t have my speech yet.
There are no right words.
And Brendon won’t let me off the hook. He’s stubborn and he’s fierce, and that’s exactly why I first fell in love with him: his strength.
“I’ll go get a drink,” Sisky says, abandoning me.
“Can we talk now?” Brendon asks when he reaches me, before I’ve located a way to run for it. “Great.” He grabs a hold of my arm and pulls me with him, like I’m a schoolboy who’s done something naughty. But it burns, his touch on me, and I remember his hands on my back as I pushed into him, our mouths locked, the hushed words. Were there hushed promises? Was I stupid enough to make some?
He drags us to a bathroom. It’s small and it’s dirty and has a sink and a toilet and a broken mirror and ugly brown tiles. He locks the door and stands in front of it, and I expect him to start yelling or shouting or maybe even try to fuck me, I don’t know, but he takes a breath and the armour vanishes. The anger vanishes, the aggression. It’s like he strips down until there’s only him left, and I can hardly deal with it.
“Ryan.” It’s so soft that he might as well be whispering it to my ear. “What’s going on?”
He crosses his arms over his chest defensively – not defensively. Protectively. He knows what’s coming, knows what to expect from me. His body knows it even if he’s unwilling to admit it himself. And he looks small and hurt, and I just want to step into the role of a protector and destroy anyone who ever makes him feel small.
But I’m the cause of it. And I can’t protect him from me.
“Nothing’s going on,” I say and try to pretend that I’m confused. Like I don’t know what’s wrong.
“Nothing?” he asks disbelievingly. “Okay, alright.” But it’s disorientated like he doesn’t know left from right just then. And then the anger resurfaces. “Nothing?!” he says again, but I don’t react. He seems astonished. “Don’t do this to me! Last night was – You know what it was. And now it’s like I don’t even exist?! What kind of a sick game is that?!”
I avoid his gaze, try to look awkward like he’s inconveniencing me – I used to do the asshole act so, so well, I had it perfected – but he barks, “Answer me!”
So I do. I find the words. At least I can be sincere if nothing else.
“The tour’s practically done. I’ll be gone before you know it and then we never have to see each other again.”
There. That’s the solution because I even fucked up a falsified friendship. So we can’t be friends. It’s better to be nothing, then, maybe it’s better to – just let it rest. Now we know we can never be friends. We never tried until now, and now we know that there are no options for us. There isn’t a way for us to work.
“Never...?” he almost whispers, and the pain that he doesn’t even try to hide cuts straight through me. He looks devastated, and this is killing me as it is, I don’t need him guilt-tripping me. “Ryan, why would you –” he start but his voice breaks off, and he lifts a hand to his mouth like he feels sick.
And that’s so selfish of him, that’s so fucking typical.
“What do you want from me?!” I ask angrily. I try and try, but it’s never enough with him. He could let me do the right fucking thing for once.
“Then what?! Because we’ve done the casual sex thing, and guess what? We’re no good at it! And we’ve done the affair too, and we’re no good at that either! And I don’t know if you just wanted to make Dallon jealous last night or –”
“Shut up! God, shut up!” he barks, and that’s the Brendon I know, the one with a backbone, relentless and uncompromising. This is him, and he’s breaking. “God, how can you – I don’t want casual sex, I don’t want an affair!” His hands drop to his sides as he looks at me. “I want you. Ryan, fucking hell,” he breathes out, and his tone is the closest to begging I’ve ever heard it. A sharp pain radiates in my chest, but I ignore it.
“Well isn’t that convenient?” I say in a mocking tone, seeing him pulling out all of his cards now.
He stares at me in astonishment. “What do you want me to say, then?!”
“You don’t need to –”
“That when Dallon and I almost slept together in London, I had to put a stop to it because you were all I could fucking think about?! Fuck, you’re all I think about!”
I indignantly ignore what he’s saying about me and focus on the slipped information instead. I knew it wasn’t innocent, them going to that hotel room. I knew it because I know Brendon – and then I was the second victim last night as he has a habit of luring men into his room.
He looks me deep in the eye, refuses to back down. “I don’t understand why you’re trying to pull away from me,” he says as calmly as he can, but he’s not calm.
“God, if I had known that a round of sex was going to make you this clingy –”
“Do you honestly think that’ll work?!” he snaps. I don’t know. It would have worked before. I’ve pissed him off now: his lips have pursed, his brows knitted together. “And not even a note! Waking up to – and not knowing where you were, I’ve been so fucking worried, and then Ian quit, and I needed you, I fucking needed you, and then you just – you ignore me, and it hurts so much that I can barely go on stage!” He stops to take a breath and shakes his head. “What the hell’s wrong with you?! Is this a new type of punishment for me?”
“No, it –”
“Then what the fuck?!” he nearly yells. He’s falling apart in front of me. “I just. I don’t understand. Okay? If you just – just explain it to me, if you just – Because I don’t understand, I can’t– I love you, and I don’t understand why –”
“What?” I cut in sharply.
Suddenly, I can’t breathe. Suddenly, I doubt I’m the one who feels like he’s still in control.
But Brendon knows what he’s said, knows what caught my ear. He suddenly looks softer, letting the anger subside. “I love you,” he says like it’s somehow self-explanatory.
He says it, the words spill from his lips, almost like he’s been dared. I don’t react. I can’t.
He sharply pulls in air, then, looking shaken. “I’m sorry. Fuck, I – I didn’t mean to blurt it out like that, it just came out. Shit, I pictured this happening so differently, I’m sorry. Fuck, I feel so nervous now.” And then he laughs a worried laugh that’s so full of hope that it sickens me. And he gazes at me with warmth in his eyes, like that’s it, like that’s okay.
“I need to go,” I hiss, and I try to get past him.
But he instantly blocks me, eyes widening in surprise. “What –”
“You can’t do this to me, you can’t just –”
“Are you angry?” he asks disbelievingly, studying my face, looking shocked.
“Of course I’m fucking angry!” I yell at him, flat out yell.
Nothing makes sense, my thoughts running havoc. My hands have curled into fists, and I feel sick and tired and then even more sick, and my hands shake, and I can’t breathe, and I – Fuck, I.
“You can’t just – just say that!” I spit out, feeling angrier with every second that passes. “You pictured this happening differently?” I repeat because that’s the worst part, if there can be a worst part in it. “You’ve been – standing there, thinking it but not saying it?! For how long?” I ask, but he’s paled now. “For how long, Brendon?!”
He tries to stutter something, but nothing comes out. He wasn’t expecting this reaction. He was expecting me to just fall in his arms – it was a weapon, and he used it. It backfired.
He shakes his head like he doesn’t have the answer. “I-I don’t know for how long, I –”
“You don’t know,” I repeat disbelievingly. “Well how fucking convenient for you!”
I step away from him, old memories twisting and turning, taking on new, hideous shapes, and suddenly all of it hurts nearly as much as it did when it happened.
“Does it matter? I’m saying it now!”
“It matters! Two years ago, I was begging to hear you say that! I would’ve given anything, and you knew it!”
This momentarily renders him speechless. I see a flicker of shame in his eyes. I need more than a flicker, a hell of a lot more. “I know,” he whispers apologetically, and he looks sorry now. It’s not enough. “I know that, I do, but it was too hard to say, I couldn’t bring myself to –”
“What?” I stop. Astonished. Feel like he’s punched me. “Fuck, are you saying you loved me back then?”
He won’t meet my gaze. “Of course I did.”
Of course? How is it an ‘of course’?
That scheming son of a –
“If you loved me, then how was it alright for you to say that you loved Shane but not me?!” I shout at him. “How was it alright to let me think that I could never be good enough to be loved? By strangers, sure! Fans, sure! But not by you. I let you in, and you still couldn’t love me.” He tries to say something, but I don’t care, I don’t want to know, and I cut him off, feeling disgusted and insulted. “You know what, Brendon? Fuck you.”
“Ryan, please,” he pleads, but no, I’ll have none of it. “Please! I’m saying it now, and you don’t get to freak out!”
“Ryan, please. Please.” He takes a step closer, his hands hover like he’d want to touch me but then he doesn’t. “Please just listen to me. I’m not great with words, but –”
“Clearly because saying I love you hardly requires originality!” He looks shamed. Good, fucking good – How dare he, how could he? “And don’t say that I should’ve known somehow! I can’t read your mind!” I snap, still as angry, still as hurt. “Fuck, I’ve spent years trying to figure you out, I’ve killed myself over this and I’ve hated myself for this, and then there’s you, it must be so fucking easy to be you.”
“I know I’m not perfect, I know I’m flawed,” he rushes out, and I suddenly feel worried that he’ll break down in front of me. “I mess things up, I know baby, but I love you.”
“Don’t wear it out,” I say quietly. Every time he says it, a new kind of disappointment and anger swirl in me. “What gives you the fucking right to say that?” I ask him, and he flinches.
I push past him, and he says, “Ryan,” a hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t you dare touch me.”
He removes his hand.
I unlock the door and leave him.
Out of the two of us, I always assumed that I was more fucked up than he was.
Don’t know so much after all, do I?
I don’t want to be on this bus. I don’t want to be in this lounge. I don’t want to be in a space where he is, I don’t want to see him, I don’t want to hear his voice.
I wish I could wash it all off of me, off of my days, my past.
He doesn’t love me.
For him, love is a toy or a tool of manipulation. Drop it in the conversation when it’s convenient. What does a fucked up kid like him know about love?
I’m easy prey.
This is entertainment.
I stay in the bus lounge with the guys because if I go to my bunk, I can be cornered easily. So I stay where the guys are now getting high as we leave Italy, but I don’t smoke up – the second-hand smoke doesn’t count. But the guys are high and are talking bullshit, about the tour, about Ian, and I sit on the end of the couch that’s closer to the bus front, a beer bottle in hand. I’ve been nursing it for a while. And the guys don’t try to involve me in the conversation, and they don’t try to talk to Brendon, who is sitting at the other end of the opposite couch, looking at me for the most part. And it’s uncomfortable for all at first, but then they get high, and Brendon and I are the only sober ones left.
I have no intention of being alone with him again.
He looks like he wants to talk. What good is talking? And if he loves me so much, then why not just say it, then? Announce it in front of everyone?
Stand up. Tell the world, then.
Prove your words, don’t throw them around like empty promises.
But he doesn’t. He sits there, and he doesn’t say it. Just like he never used to.
Eventually the tension becomes unbearable even for me, the constant anger and pain stabbing at my insides. Feeling so ridiculed and fooled.
I make up some lame excuse about needing to talk to Jürgen about something important like fuel consumption and disappear to the front of the bus. Jürgen looks over his shoulder at me and smiles, but he doesn’t try to talk. I hold on to the headrest of his seat and look at the dark road ahead, say something stupid like, “Wanted to check out the view,” like he even understands me. But he just nods.
And I stay with him to get a breather, to escape how Brendon’s constantly trying to make contact. I won’t have any of it.
So he’s sorry.
‘Sorry’ doesn’t change a damn thing. Doesn’t make me believe him.
“Do you like driving?” I ask, desperate for something to think about.
“Yes, very much!” Jürgen says.
“I used to drive our buses. Back when I wasn’t as famous. I crashed a bus once, too.”
Jürgen hums, an indication that he doesn’t understand me. “Very nice!”
“It was a primitive response to loss from a melodramatic artist in love,” I say, and I watch the road ahead, the way it’s almost black now that the sun has set. I can’t see much, but on our left is a sea, glittery water in the moonlight. The Mediterranean – not like there are other seas around. “I crashed that bus good and proper. You fuck something up that bad, it doesn’t matter what comes next.”
“Barcelona next,” he suggests, now somewhat unsure like he’s getting restless that I’m blabbing at him.
“Yeah, I know. Thanks, man.”
He nods, and it seems like our conversation is over because he focuses on driving again. Now I’ll have to go back to the lounge where Brendon is, and I know he’ll keep looking at me, but I don’t know what the hell he wants from me or what he expects.
Who’s being arrogant and presumptuous now?
But as I turn to leave, I almost bump into Brendon who’s obviously decided to follow me. He pointedly blocks the passageway, stops me. I look over his shoulder, see that Jon and Dallon are looking our way, and I quickly mutter, “Don’t.”
Whatever it is, I don’t want to know.
He, on the other hand, looks at Jürgen’s back worriedly, but it’s not like the German understands. Brendon’s restless when he whispers, “Is it my turn to beg? Is that what you want?”
“No,” I hiss quietly.
I don’t want anything from him except him leaving me be. Fuck, can’t he see that I cannot be around him right now?
“Then what?” he asks desperately, and he stands too close to me, like he thinks he has the right now. Because we fucked, because he’s declared his love for me. His love. Well, isn’t that grand?
“Nothing. I want nothing from you,” I say quietly, and he blinks a bit too fast.
“I know I’ve fucked up,” he says, and yeah, he really fucking has. “But can we talk about it, at least? You’re shutting me out, if you just –”
“Because talking about our feelings has always been our forte,” I shoot back.
“It’s different this time,” he says quietly. He’s subscribing to the same delusion Spencer did.
“It’s not different at all. We’re already tearing each other apart.”
He has nothing to counter that with.
The games we play have just become even crueller over the years. That’s all.
I push past him, and he doesn’t try to stop me
The drive is the longest one we’ve had all tour, and although we got on the bus in the evening, we’re not in Barcelona until well into the following morning.
The bus begins to slow down, stops, we drive some more, stop, turn, stop. Coming into a city, navigating to the venue, finding the right place to park. And then we finally stop completely and the engine switches off. I hear Mike and Jürgen talking in whispers before Jürgen goes into his bunk after an entire night of driving.
The other guys seem to still be asleep, too. I haven’t slept all night.
I get out of the bunk, glad to escape its claustrophobic air and the thoughts that just bounce back and forth. To escape the feeling of being ridiculed.
Brendon’s bunk curtain is closed, and the pain feels new as I pass it, sliding the door aside and entering the lounge. But I’ve escaped nothing because Brendon’s not in his bunk – he’s on the couch, asleep. His notebook is in his lap, there are torn pages thrown across the lounge, and I realise he spent his night here, writing something he clearly wasn’t pleased with. And now he’s passed out, breathing deeply, and evenly but a frown remains on his face. Troubled dreams.
And I think of what he said yesterday, and I think of us the night before, in that hotel room, and then I think of us flying home tomorrow, and then I think of him no more.
He doesn’t wake up as I walk past him quietly.
I get out of the bus just to breathe.
We’re parked down the street from the venue, which is a red brick building that has the look of a theatre to it. Mike and Sisky are outside the bus, smoking morning cigarettes, and they look surprised to see me. It’s not cold or snowy anymore – we’ve gotten out of northern Europe, we’ve gotten away from the Alps. It’s a clear yet pale day, and I don’t need my scarf protecting my throat. I breathe in the lukewarm air, fight off the constricted feeling in my chest.
I say, “Morning.”
I say, “I’m gonna go for a walk.”
I don’t have to ask Sisky to keep me company: he volunteers on his own. And I appreciate it, I wanted him to come. He’s great company when I don’t want to think about myself. So we head down the street, Mike tells us not to get lost. We won’t. It’s relatively early, cars honking and drivers shouting at each other. I look around, look at the aging buildings with paint peeling off of them, reminding me of my house in Machias, and I look at the wide streets and the stocky palm trees, and I feel far away from whoever I am right now. This is some strange version of me.
Sisky’s got something on his mind, and he’s not trying to hide it. After two blocks of shared silence, he says, “Dallon was talking about leaving the band last night.”
“What?” I repeat in surprise, not having caught anything of the kind.
Sisky nods slowly. “I overheard him talking to Mike about it, they were the last ones awake. Mike hasn’t mentioned it to me or anyone, I don’t think. Mike just wants to finish the tour and assess the damage once everyone’s back home, but Dallon sounded serious. He wants to quit the band.”
“Why?” I ask after a pause, trying to take this in. “Dallon, I mean.”
I look at Sisky, thinking to myself that this is a fair question, but Sisky looks disbelieving and even taken aback by me, and I’m not used to seeing that on him.
“What do you think?” he asks pointedly. I don’t know. “Everyone knows about you and Brendon,” he says slowly like he needs to emphasise this because of my lacking deduction skills. “We all know you –”
And then he looks straight ahead where my eyes meet an abundance of trees, a park ahead of us. And I focus on that too, the way the slight breeze moves the branches ahead, and I think of Brendon’s arms around me, his arms pinned to the bed, on my back, I think of how he moved when I pushed and pulled, I think of us fucking and how good it was and how lost I was in it. I think of the way he kissed the corner of my mouth after I’d come.
So they all know. Dallon knows. Brendon never slept with him, despite their months of foreplay. And a week after their one and only date, Brendon sleeps with his notorious ex instead. Dallon was already angry and hurt – but now he must be...
“And Dallon’s leaving because of that?” I ask disbelievingly.
Sex is just sex. Dallon shouldn’t take it that personally – and so what, Brendon and I have always been in and out of each other’s beds. It never got us anywhere. It never fixed anything. Sex is not a guarantee, it’s not a solution. It doesn’t make all the fucked up things go away, it doesn’t fix us. It feels good, and we’re just as broken afterwards.
Dallon shouldn’t be offended by it. He should laugh that we’re still repeating the same mistakes.
There are steps leading away from the street and into the park. We follow them up, leaving the late morning traffic behind. Some trees are leafless, some aren’t. We follow a path in the open space, passing an old man walking an English bulldog with a grey muzzle. The man’s got a cane and he’s got old age, and that’s what we all get in the end. I’ll be thirty in two years. I’ll be forty. Fifty. Sixty. Seventy. And then that’ll be me, that old man. And by then I’ll laugh at this, how dramatic and immediate everything seemed. I’ll laugh at my eighteen-year-old self and my twenty-eight-year-old self. I will laugh. I just need forty years to reach that point, to become that cynical that I forget this ache in my chest. That I forget the feel of his lips against my mouth, and how it felt more intimate than anything I’ve ever known.
Sisky says, “When I interviewed Brendon, he kept trying to pry what you’d said about the two of you. I didn’t tell him. I kept my mouth shut.”
Well, at least Sisky’s learned something.
Sisky hesitates, then, but he presses on, his voice mixing with the sound of gravel crunching under our feet. “Brendon seemed desperate to know how you feel about him now, not then but now. He probably wanted to know if his feelings are returned, I think.” He treads on it so carefully, Sisky does, and I give him credit for that. For dancing around it beautifully.
“Sisky, I’m going to ask you to stay out of it.”
I say it only once. I don’t say it maliciously. I don’t say it kindly. I say it the way those things are meant to be said: with finality. And then I will extend that finality, I will, I will learn to pull it from a single sentence to cover all sentences and actions.
It’s between Brendon and me. It doesn’t concern anyone else. What we fuck up is ours.
And Sisky nods, letting it be. And we walk along the path that turns into stone, taking us to a carefully laid out garden with flower beds, pillars, trees in the distance. With air to move. I get out a cigarette and smoke, and Sisky picks up a flower and carries it around, and I don’t know what he plans to do with a dying thing like that.
We come to the top of some ruins, then, that take both of us by surprise. It’s an old amphitheatre, a broken half-circle of stone benches down a slope looking to the middle to a stage. How old it is, I don’t know, but it’s clear that the gardens have been built around it. We descend a few rows curiously, before taking seats. I imagine who has performed there, how many hundreds of years ago. But the amphitheatre is deserted, no tourists or locals near. Like they don’t care about the arts: they come and go. Only the good ones, the godlike ones, can immortalise their names. Sisky is busy with immortalising mine. I wonder if he’ll succeed. I wonder if I’ll exist two hundred years from now. I wonder if Brendon will.
If only one of us can, I’d choose his name to live on. Or I would have. I would have assumed him to be superior, but now? When he says that he has thought of saying it to me so many times, that he thinks he loves me. Yet he never said it.
What does he deserve now?
Sisky says, “I called Mom yesterday.” And it’s the start of a story, so I nod to tell him I’m listening. “Gold had called, my ex-girlfriend?” I remember the name, I am aware. “I haven’t heard from her in two years. I think she’s heard the rumours, about me being on tour with you. She always fucking adored you...” he says, trailing off with a sigh.
“A bit too late to love you now, don’t you think?” I ask.
“I know that’s the only reason that she’s gotten in touch.” He’s not as naive as he tries to come across.
I blow out smoke slowly. “You gonna call her back?”
“No.” He shakes his head and sounds resolved somewhere under the hurt that he is finally considered as interesting enough by someone he thought he loved. “No, I won’t ever see her again.”
And he started out sounding tough and indifferent, but it breaks just then. His voice breaks, and he ducks his head to hide his face. He swallows hard and looks small. I stub my cigarette against the stone, keeping an eye on him. A shiver runs down his back.
The tour is about to be over, and then he will be back in that small Bucktown bungalow with his mother, working on a book about me. It’s hard for me to picture him there because he’s meant for bigger audiences, he’s meant for loud music and he’s meant for a hundred hellos when he walks into a room. And he isn’t meant to be small like he looks right now.
“Listen,” I say, but he doesn’t look up. “You have a home. You know that, though, right? It’s not fixed to one place, it’s not a physical location. It’s people, and when you’re with them, you’re home.” I look towards the empty stage ten rows below. “And you’re loved. The guys love having you here and – You know, the guys.”
He nods, quickly wiping the corners of his eyes. He looks at me with a broken smile. “Thanks.” He sounds so happy that it makes me uncomfortable, so I just nod.
He breathes in and he breathes out. Says, “Hey, so, can we get some churros?”
He smiles sheepishly.
Well of course not.
Mike’s given us the half hour warning for His Side’s Sanctuary tour’s last show, and it’s just enough time for me to go to the bus in search of a vest to put over my dress shirt that I’ve just spilled beer on. Try to make myself look presentable for the final show.
A few kids outside are trying to get tickets for the sold out show, and I’d sign their hands and arms, sure, but I’m not in the mood and don’t have the time.
I think of the torture ahead, having to stand by his side for an hour and a half. I know he won’t just let it be.
My packed suitcase is in my bunk, as I had lifted it there earlier to be out of the way. After the show we’re driving to Madrid overnight to catch a morning flight to London, then getting on a plane to Chicago from there. The air is full of goodbyes, and we’re all getting ready for it.
Our time is nearly up.
I find the vest I’m looking for, throw the dark brown over the light brown of my shirt. I’m buttoning it up when the bunk area door slides open, and I jerk slightly because I thought the bus was empty.
“Hey,” Brendon says. I saw him backstage just five minutes ago, warming up his voice – I turned around before he could see me. Still, he must have spotted me and has followed me here. He’s become shameless, almost.
“Hi.” I look away.
He’s in his stage clothes, those flared white trousers of his, a big belt and a black dress shirt, and his clothes look good but he himself doesn’t. He’s trying to smile but it’s obvious that it’s taking a lot of effort. “All packed?”
“Yeah.” I quickly button the vest and brush it with my hand to flatten it against my chest.
Idle chitchat after he told me that he loves me and I rejected him. I still can’t bring myself to think about it.
“I tried writing you a letter,” he then says. I recall him asleep on the couch this morning with discarded paper balls around him. So that’s what it was.
“A love letter?” I ask because I cannot really picture him sitting down to write one. To me or to anyone.
But he smiles at this, and I look away. I didn’t mean to suggest anything with it, it’s just – after yesterday, and the way he seems to be throwing the L word around now when it has never been in his vocabulary before.
“I guess you could call it that. But as it turns out, I’m not really good at explaining how I feel,” he says, and I could have told him that.
“Well, we’ve got a show to –”
“Please, just – Please,” he says, stalling me.
“You’ve said your piece.”
I don’t want to see him be reduced to yelling again, or me, either of us.
“I haven’t, though. I really haven’t said my piece,” he almost laughs, and it’s sad, and I’ve made him sad, and I hate that. Or has he made himself sad? Now that I think about it, that might be his own doing entirely. “I’m not asking for anything, I just want you to listen,” he says, rushing the words out. He waits to see if I’ll storm off again.
But I stay. I even look him in the eye properly, hold his gaze. He’ll never back down if I try to outrun him.
He realises he’s got my attention. He swallows hard, nods to himself. “Okay, I know what I – I know what I want to say,” he says, and his tone becomes surer. “You asked me something yesterday, and I couldn’t answer, but – I can. So... do you remember back on The Followers tour, when everyone found out that you and I were involved?”
How could I forget something like that? Joe outed me in front of everyone. Called me a faggot, I tried to deny it. And then Spencer outed me: told everyone it was true.
It’s hard to forget something like that, so I nod.
“Okay, well remember when... when you dumped me, after they found out? We were in Salt Lake City. You took me to Pioneer Park, tried to break it to me gently. Do you remember?” he asks again, clearly trying to be as specific as he can. I stare at him, trying to recall that moment, but it’s hazy at best. I remember that it hurt me to leave him – not that I even managed it for long. I still nod. “Okay, well... that’s when I... knew that I loved you.”
I stare. I didn’t expect that.
“Because I- I remember standing there, thinking, ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck. You idiot went and fell for him.’” He laughs, sounding sad by the memory of it. It should not be sad, realising you love someone. It shouldn’t be sad the way it is with us. He hangs his head and quietly adds, “Because that’s when I knew. Losing you felt like losing something. I don’t know if you – if you realise that I haven’t really been able to lose anything since I left home. I just drifted along. New cities and new jobs, everything disposable... but then I met you.” His eyes land on me, that sad soft smile still there, but it’s affectionate. It’s how you look at someone you- you love. And he’s never let it show before. “And everything about you tore me up inside. You were so cocky and infuriating, and I knew that you were a mess, I knew you were trouble, but you were the most – the most fascinating guy I’d ever met. And I fell in love with you.”
“No, you didn’t,” I say quietly. “That night in San Francisco, you said –”
“Can’t a guy lie when his heart is breaking?” he asks. He can. Of course he can. It’s all I do.
I know that back then I tried to treat him like property. I mocked his feelings for me. Later I was desperate for them, and I guess the irony isn’t lost on me.
“I loved you,” he says, and at that second I believe him. “And I couldn’t stop loving you no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t stop. And after I quit as your roadie, after I’d lost you and Pete fucked me over with the money, and after all that, I was in a bad place. Shane saved me, you know that. Shane saved me,” he says firmly like he won’t let me deny that. I can’t. I left Brendon high and dry, and he did the same to me. Guess we both needed saving – and he found Shane.
It doesn’t mean that I’m okay with that. Knowing that in the end, he loved Shane more, even if he – even if he had feelings for me.
“You still chose Shane over me in the end,” I point out to him.
“Let me finish, alright?” he asks urgently, but I don’t want to think about it. How ugly and desperate we got. “I wasn’t over you,” he says, and I find it hard to swallow. “But it was fine, I thought, because I’d never see you again anyway. I thought it’d just go away. But we did meet again. And what I felt for you hadn’t gone away, I realised that the second I saw you. So that whole – in New York, it was an ugly winter. I’m sorry I put us all through that. I guess we both got what we deserved in the end,” he says. I thought the shame of it was mine alone to carry. It’s not. “You were right about me, though.”
“Which part?” I ask quietly.
“The part where I was so fucking in love with you, but I just couldn’t –” he begins and breaks off. I can’t look at him. He can’t look at me. He laughs that sad laugh of his. “It was too much.”
“I’m sorry to hear it.”
And the anger is there in my tone, but if love for me is something to be ashamed of, then that sums me up as a person.
“No, I just – I was scared that you only wanted me because you couldn’t have me. That if I gave myself to you again... you’d just decide not to want me anymore. And I didn’t see myself surviving losing you again. And what I felt for you, it was – so strong that it scared the shit out of me. I didn’t handle it well, I made a mess of it all. I know that, I know,” he says, his resolution breaking and his words becoming rushed. “So I fucked up in New York. I knew deep down that I should’ve chosen you, Ryan, I should have –”
“Don’t say that,” I manage, my voice rough. Years laid to waste so quickly. “Shit, don’t say that. It – it fucked up so much, it fucked me up so much.”
“I know, god, I know,” he says, stepping closer to me. “And I’m sorry. Baby, I’m so – I was scared, I know it’s not an excuse, but I was scared. You were – you were still figuring things out, and that didn’t change just by you saying you loved me.”
“I had it figured out.”
“Did you?” he asks pointedly. “With the affair and the lies and Shane and Keltie and the band and the codeine, I mean – Did either of us have any clue as to what we were doing? I didn’t... I didn’t think we did. And I wasn’t ready to take that risk. What would I have to fall back on if it turned out you were just as confused as you had been when we first met? I wouldn’t have had anything. And I wasn’t – I wasn’t going to spend my life being your whore or –”
“Something Brent called me once,” he says, waving it off like it’s not important, but rage bubbles in me nonetheless. He was never going to be that, he was never – “I had nothing to my name,” he says slowly. “I lost everything once, and with Shane I finally had something, something real, and I didn’t trust you enough to risk it and end up with nothing. So I get that you’re angry that I stayed silent, that I never owned up to what I felt for you, but it was – it was so hard, and I. And I chose wrong. I should’ve chosen you, but I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t trust you enough. I just wasn’t ready but...” His voice fades like he’s lost in his thoughts, but then his voice rings out sure. “I’m ready now.”
I don’t- I don’t know what to say to that, I don’t even know where to start. He stands in front of me expectantly, and he’s ready now. And I don’t know what to say.
Fuck, I’ve waited. And now it’s here, he’s saying it, and I just –
“I’ve missed you,” he whispers when he receives no reply. “And I don’t want you to go back to- to New York or Maine or wherever you live now. I want you to stay with me or – or let me come with you, it wouldn’t matter to me. I want us. I want to give us our first decent shot. I don’t think we’d fuck it up. I think we’d feel things we never even knew we could feel.”
For a split second, I let myself imagine the scenario – us, going for it – he’s right, it’d probably be amazing. Fuck, it’d be everything.
He’s ready, and he’s asking.
And I can’t speak or look him in the eye.
I believe him. I believe what he says, I believe that he means it, that his account of the past is an accurate one. His side. I believe it. But fuck, why does that somehow make it worse?
“Unless,” he begins quietly, voice wavering. “...Unless you don’t love me anymore. Unless I’ve missed my chance.”
“It’s not that simple,” I say instantly, not wanting him to misinterpret my silence.
“Isn’t it?” he asks. “God, we wouldn’t be perfect together, I know that.” He says it like that’s elementary, and it’s different from the flawless image I was drawing up. “We’d fight and we’d slam doors and you’d be a dick and I’d give you as good as I get, but... we’d also be good together. Don’t you think? We’d be so good together.”
“Seems like a sudden change of heart when not too long ago you and Dallon were –”
“Who?” he asks, frowning, and it’s so charming, the way he now smiles. It’s a sure smile, a winning smile. He’s putting everything he has left into it. “Like I can see anyone else when you’re in the room,” he says softly. Everything he’s said so far has sounded pre-planned, bits of the words he tried to write down. For the first time the words seem to come out naturally.
Dallon said that he never had a chance – we just misled him to believe so. He was probably right. If what Brendon says is true, then no one else ever had a chance. Not from the moment we laid eyes on each other on a – a tour bus not that different from this one. And he was standing towards the back like I now am, and I was standing by the door like he now is. From that moment all the way up to now, maybe no one else could have a chance with him. Fuck, maybe even Shane never had it – to have Brendon in a way only I could. In the way Brendon now is offering himself, and I know it’s terrifying for him but he’s doing it anyway.
“Please, Ryan,” he says quietly.
He loved me when I was the least worthy of it. He still loved me. And now he finally trusts that feeling enough to want us.
But I feel the fear of it keenly. There are no guarantees.
The silence stretches on. He looks away, his mouth a thin line. “...Okay, then.”
I want to say sorry. I want to apologise. He is the only thing I want. If he didn’t dare take the plunge for us before because he was worried it’d leave him with nothing, then he should understand me. If I have him, and if I then no longer have him, then I will have nothing but the knowledge I ruined the one person who ever mattered to me.
“Okay,” he says again, but it’s not okay, clearly it’s not okay. Something breaks in him just then. “I’m too late. I guess you and me just always – But it. It doesn’t matter.” He tries to smile, wipes the corners of his eyes. “I’ll wait anyway. In case you change your mind.”
“In case you change your mind,” he persists, but it’s desperate.
“And what if I never do?” I ask quietly.
He shrugs like that’s of no importance. “I’ll still wait.” And then he does manage a smile that’s full of pain.
And with that he pushes the door aside and walks away, his steps sure – like it gives him strength. His love. It gives him strength to even do this, to walk away before he breaks down in front of me. It gives him the patience to wait for something that might never happen.
I stand by my bunk, breathing in the silence. Breathing in the ghosts of his words that seem to set in only now. I replay it in my head. Again. And again. I was so set on blaming him but now I don’t know if I can. He’s been a coward, but you’d have to be insane or suicidal to trust me. And I took every chance to teach him just that, to not trust me.
And yet he loved me.
“Fuck,” I say through gritted teeth.
An odd, fizzy sensation settles in my stomach, penetrating layers, making my fingers shake. I lean against the bunks. Bury my face in my hands. No wonder. No wonder it’s well over four years later and here we are, because that’s what he’s like, that’s him. Breaking the rules, loving me when no one else would. How do you go about forgetting someone like him?
The curtain of his bunk has been pushed aside. I see my jacket there, the one he won the other night. The one he wanted because it smells like me. I walk over. My fingers touch the corduroy, glide along it. I hold it by the collar, pulling it out, and I breathe it in. I don’t smell me. I smell him.
It won’t be of use for much longer, then. When things that are mine turn into his, when things that are his turn into mine.
Suddenly I feel thirsty, incredibly thirsty. I haven’t had a drop of water in years, and it’s making me light-headed. I feel a sudden rush of blood to my head. My vision blurs. Everything blurs.
I’ve fucked us over time and time again, and he’d still wait for me. He’s stupid. God, he’s such an idiot.
I smoke a cigarette then and there, next to his bunk. It’s hard to keep the smoke between my lips when suddenly adrenalin is pumping through me. Shapeless half-thoughts run through me, heat spreading from my chest. I rub my face. Blink. Try to focus my gaze. My thoughts are a horrible mess, where do they start, and where do they end.
Start: Pioneer Park, Salt Lake City. I told him I couldn’t do it anymore. And I – I remember now. He thought that I meant I couldn’t go on lying about us. I meant I couldn’t do us, full stop.
But he thought... he thought that I meant that I couldn’t lie about what we had anymore. Oh, but I could. I was stubborn like that.
But he knew what we had. Well, he had an inkling, anyway. Already then.
He beat me out of the water with that one. It took me a few years to grasp what we had.
But I’m forgetting something, I am, like – The show, shit, the fucking show. We’re about to go on. Probably. Are we? Fuck.
I hurry back to the venue, rolling up the sleeves of my shirt to my elbows. I flex my fingers – guitar fingers, guitar fingers – kids shout after me, something in Spanish, and I yell back, say, “Sí, sí, estupendo!” and Gabe would be proud, and I think of Brendon, wonder where my thoughts end if they start at that moment in Pioneer Park.
And then I’m backstage, and my heart hammers wildly. It’s odd how the organ is making itself known, like a drummer keeping up a steady yet accelerating rhythm. And that fizzy sensation in my belly is bubbling over, and I’m missing something. An unvoiced thought.
Am I going for the stage or for him? Both?
Then Leo is in front of me, saying, “You need to go on stage!” and he’s hurrying me along. I join the band just as they’re leaving the dressing room. Mike snaps at me, asking where Brendon is, but he came back here, didn’t he?
“We’re missing our singer!” Mike says like this is the stuff of nightmares, and I look around for him frantically. The crowd is chanting. We see them from where we’re standing. “Stall!” Mike says and almost pushes Jon to the stage. Jon stalks to his stand, clearly annoyed, and Dallon follows, taking his bass from the stand behind him as the crowd cheers.
I’ve got a mind to stay until we find Brendon, but Mike won’t have it. Spencer and I walk out together, and I’m barely aware of the crowd until they’re screaming my name. Who the hell are they? Sisky watches us with a pen and notepad, wanting to write down some thoughts on the final show, I’m guessing. But I’m confused, I feel so fucking confused, and I try to see Brendon, I keep looking around. He’s not here.
I hate that. He shouldn’t – or he should, I mean that.
It doesn’t work without him. This show. Anything.
I automatically grab a guitar and face the crowd because there’s nothing else for me to do. I wasn’t born to be on stage – it’s been masochistic curiosity. Like me and the sea: who blinks first? I wanted to see if I could belong here, silence a crowd. Turns out that I can.
Somewhere far away, Jon’s talking to the crowd, stalling, and I’ve got a guitar, okay, I can work that. I strum a G chord, tune my A string slightly, strum it again – there, in tune now.
And I look up and see Brendon just off the stage. Hey. Okay. The thought, the one escaping me – There he is.
The end thought.
I forget to play.
Mike is talking to Brendon and is pointing towards us, and Sisky’s turned to look at them, and Brendon is nodding, and then he shakes his head, and he should be on stage by now, and he nods again, and he wipes his eyes, and he laughs tearfully, and he nods, and Mike is practically pushing him on stage.
The odds are against me. Tomorrow’s a faceless stranger.
But the odds have always been against me, in everything. And I’ve managed.
And the bubbling and the heat and the noise in me all reach their apogees then – and they harmonise, fade out. And I see him.
I wake up.
I find myself on stage. In front of screaming fans.
I wake up.
I lift the guitar strap over my head and hand the instrument to Dallon, who looks at me in bewilderment as he takes it. “Hold that for me,” I say, and the four-thousand headed crowd is yelling displeasure from Brendon missing, from me marching back off stage.
Brendon’s just about to come on, Mike seems to have coaxed him into it, but I take a hold of his arm and pull him away.
“What –” he starts, but there is no time for that.
“What if,” I rush out, and Mike tries cutting me off but I stop him with an open palm aimed at him, and Sisky pulls Mike from us, backing away. Brendon quickly looks at them, at the stage, then at me. His big brown eyes are alert, and he’s cried since I last saw him – not too much, but he has, and I forget what I wanted to say. “Fuck, don’t cry,” I almost plead, a hand lifting to wipe his cheek.
“I’m not,” he says instantly, shaking his head. “I’m fine, I just- had a moment, it’s just –”
My hands land on his shoulders, tentative, testing it out. He seems confused. Not that confused. He’s full of hope, enough for us both, and that’s enough.
I hold him tighter and don’t let go.
“What if,” I say again, rushing it out, rambling, “what if I said that I will most likely fuck it up, but – but I might not, I mean, because I might not. Like you said that now you’re ready, well – I think now I get it. Because there’s you. There’s you. And you’re this special thing, you’re this- permanent thing for me. One of the- the few. And what you said, giving us a shot, I mean, have we ever really even tried?”
“No,” he says quickly, shaking his head, “not really, no.”
“Exactly. So I can’t know how it’d turn out. But you’re ready now, and you never have been before, and I understand it better now, myself, I think, and – And if you waited for me. Because I’d wait for you. No, I’d – I’d stay away from you but with that same conviction, for the same reasons, and it just seems like we’d be wasting an awful lot of time, right?”
“Right, yeah.” And he’s got a hand on my cheek now, has stepped closer and is nodding. “So you do? I mean, do you – do you want to?”
“I do. I really do.”
And that annoying little voice in my head says that I’ll regret that, but for once it shuts up when I tell it to. Because I do want to, and Brendon’s smiling now, he breaks into a smile. And it’s impossible not to smile back, not to pull him into a hug, and think fuck, holy fuck, holy shit. And he laughs slightly and kisses me on the cheek, and I love that kiss, I collect it, put it in a box of kisses I should remember when I’m that old man in the park, walking an equally ancient dog. I won’t look as miserable as he did, though. I won’t be full of regret.
He smiles against my cheek, a hand carding through my hair while mine brush the hairs at the nape of his neck, and we don’t care who’s backstage and who can see.
“Am I gonna make you cry again?” I ask because he sniffles slightly, but he shakes his head and laughs, and I tighten the hug and hold him there.
And what he and I decide to join together, let no man part. Let us not part. Let us not.
“Okay,” he whispers, nodding, and I echo him, okay, okay, okay.
And we should go play that show. Get it over and done with.
So that we can go home.
So that we can both try to have one.
Because it’s people, like I told Sisky. Home is people. A person.
And after so much war, he now evenly breathes against my skin.
It’s two o’clock in the afternoon – the departures board tells me so. We’ve time travelled. We’ve become conquerors of time because in London or Barcelona or Munich two o’clock was hours ago. We’ve gained time back.
Most of us slept on the plane. I dozed off too with Brendon’s head on my shoulder as he slept.
I wish I could control time better than that, though.
I look at the information given: 3:15 Boston, Gate 23.
The guys are waiting to go down to baggage claim, standing a safe distance away to give us privacy. Dallon went down already. He’ll have none of this, I think, but it’s beyond my control.
Brendon’s got a frown on his face, and he has paled. My eyes locate a sign that points to the twenty plus gates, and I feel nauseous.
The guys are waiting. People rush around us, all in a hurry. He stands as close to me as he can without it seeming like it’s too close.
He says, “Is there any rush with the stuff you need to get?”
“Yeah, but I – I mean. No. I suppose not really.”
“Because you could, you know, stay in Chicago for a day or two first. Tackle the jetlag?”
“I could. I guess. It’d be confusing if I changed time zones again, right?”
“That’s exactly what I was thinking,” he says, and I can breathe again.
I pocket my boarding pass and follow him to baggage claim. It takes forty minutes for my bags to be intercepted as they were heading for the Boston plane already, and normally the airline would refuse but since I am a high profile passenger and so on – their words, not mine.
So it’s a lot of waiting after the others have already said their goodbyes, mixed reactions but all supportive in their own ways. They don’t ask questions. I don’t think we’d even have the answers yet.
Brendon sits on one of the chairs, having pulled his feet up. He’s not trying to sleep, though. He’s got a suitcase, a guitar hard case and a backpack, his hair is mussed, he’s got black shadows under his eyes, and he hasn’t shaved in three days, and he’s curling up in his winter coat, and he keeps looking my way, smiling when there’s nothing to smile about.
And I wait for my luggage to be found, smoking as I wait, and I smile back at him, and that makes him smile wider, which makes me smile wider, and when we break into grins, we break eye contact, look away and start again a minute later.
Our bags barely fit in the taxi, and we put a guitar on the passenger seat, another one behind the driver, and we squeeze together in the back and don’t talk.
My hand finds his, though, somewhere beneath the scarf that Brendon unwraps from around his neck.
Chicago is the same. The streets and buildings look the same.
Brendon’s thumb draws circles on the back of my hand soothingly. It’s not the same.
The snow outside his house is untouched, his car hidden by the white powder, and the driver tells him to have fun shovelling the car out of that mess. We get our bags out and then realise that neither one of us have any money – Italian lire, French francs, but no dollars, and the driver holds onto Brendon’s guitar case stubbornly when Brendon says he keeps emergency cash in the house.
We make a path to the door, our footsteps disrupting the snow. I leave our suitcases on the porch, go back to grab more, and Brendon comes out with the cash on my second run, stepping over a large pile of mail he’s gotten in his absence.
“I’ll pay him,” I say, giving him my guitar case while he hands me the money, and I hurry to pay the man that eyes me like a criminal. His eyes flicker from me to Brendon taking our stuff in, but he says nothing. I’m not sure if he recognises us or if he perhaps thinks it’s odd that two men seem to be going into the same house. Either way, he doesn’t comment on it, and I tell him to keep the change. He gives Brendon’s Fender back.
By the time I get on the porch, our suitcases are inside. I stomp my feet to get the snow off my brogues, completely unfit for this climate but I haven’t changed since the show two airplane rides and a bus ride ago, hours and hours and hours ago, and no one knows what exhaustion is apart from us.
“That all of it?” Brendon asks as the taxi takes off.
He takes the guitar inside, and I pick up my beaten duffel bag off the porch, throw it over my shoulder.
And then I don’t move. I feel frozen.
“You’re gonna let the cold air in!” he calls out from the living room, and I see the couch where he made me sleep on the day I first got here. He won’t make me sleep there now. He won’t put boundaries between us at all.
He returns to the door, having taken his coat off. “What?” he asks with a frown, picking up on something being wrong.
I look into his house. My shoes are snowy and the tip of my nose is cold, and I stand on his porch in wrinkled clothes, feeling like someone who has accidentally stumbled upon him. Offering everything.
“What?” he repeats.
“I just... I’ve got this stupid feeling that – that if I come in,” I say slowly, fighting the words out when my throat feels like closing up, “I’ll never leave.”
His eyebrows lift. “Oh.” He turns to study the living room, too, the two couches, coffee table, bookcase unit against the wall. It’s simple and it’s plain and it’s ordinary, and I’ve never wanted anything more. “To be honest with you,” he says and looks back to me, “I was kind of counting on that.”
He’s offering everything too.
He takes a hold of my hand, applies just the right amount of pressure, a firm tug in form of a question.
I breathe in. Breathe out.
And as I step over the threshold, I begin to smile.
End of Vol.3
anna green dont sue me im just a girl that sometimes needs to give herself a reason to cry at night
if anna green sees this:
i love you and all the pain uve given me